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Postmortem Inquiries and Trauma Responses in Paramedics and Firefighters

NCJ Number
Journal of Interpersonal Violence Volume: 18 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2003 Pages: 607-622
Cheryl Regehr; John Hill; Gerald Goldberg; Judy Hughes
Date Published
June 2003
16 pages
Trauma responses of firefighters and paramedics who had been questioned in postmortem inquiries following a critical event in which they had been involved were compared with trauma responses of firefighters and paramedics who had not participated in such inquiries.
As predicted in the hypotheses, involvement in a postmortem inquiry was linked to significantly higher levels of traumatic stress symptoms and depression compared with those who had not participated in such an inquiry. Those involved in postmortem inquiries were significantly more likely to report taking stress-related leave from work than those who were not involved in such inquiries. The length of the postmortem inquiry was significantly associated with traumatic stress scores. Although media coverage of the critical event and the postmortem inquiry was not linked to traumatic stress symptoms, it was associated with higher levels of depression. These findings provide strong support for clinical impressions that many emergency responders experience postmortem inquiries as more stressful than the critical event itself. Higher levels of social support were associated with lower levels of depression and traumatic stress scores for both emergency responders involved in inquiries and those who were not. Management and unions should develop support programs for workers involved in postmortem inquiries, focusing on reducing their sense of isolation and instilling confidence in their competence. This study was conducted in two emergency service organizations in the greater Toronto area (Canada): a fire department and an ambulance service. A total of 178 participants were firefighters, and 86 were paramedics. Out of the total sample, 83 percent had been exposed to some type of critical event in the line of duty; 23.9 percent had been involved in a formal review of a tragic event. The data collected pertained to demographics, stressors, and support; social supports; current level of distress; internal control; and self-efficacy. 2 tables and 43 references